DDIGs Come to a Close

The Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG) program in the Division of Environmental Biology has come to an end. This decision was difficult, but the NSF and BIO’s programs  are facing many challenges and this is the best course of action at this time.

The first DDIG solicitation was issued nearly 50 years ago and was intended to provide supplemental funds for graduate students doing field work (a largely unfunded area at the time especially when it came to field work off campus). As the needs of graduate students evolved, DDIGs expanded to help cover additional costs such as dissemination of results and expanded research expenditures.

The funds were intended to widen the existing body of dissertation research and act as a capstone to enhance the students’ work. Over time, DDIGs became a prestigious addition to any CV, with many more students submitting proposals. Eventually, the number of DDIG awards mirrored the number of full proposal awards.


 *Proposals from core programs only


In the table above, you’ll see the number of DDIG proposals reviewed in the past two years compared to the number of full research proposals reviewed. In the recent past, full proposal awards and DDIG awards are similar in number.  What those DDIG numbers also represent are four review panels comprised of nearly eighty panelists whose recruitment, travel, and reimbursement were coordinated by NSF staff.  The cost and effort of staging a DDIG panel and processing the decisions are virtually identical to the cost and effort of a standard grant panel. Yes, DDIGs are small budget awards; they are generally less than $20,000, but DDIGs still demand all the same oversight, management, and approval processes as standard grants.

Many of our Program Officers were themselves recipients of DDIG awards and looked forward to reading the innovative and high-risk research ideas being generated by fearless students. DDIGs have catalyzed a culture of independence and risk taking among graduate students within the sciences funded by DEB; we sincerely hope that graduate training programs will strive to find ways to sustain that culture.

The decision by DEB (and IOS) to end the DDIG solicitation was difficult but in the face of high workload it was a necessary course of action. The NSF will continue supporting graduate research through the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) and the NSF Research Traineeship Program (NRT). If you have any additional questions after reading the Dear Colleague Letter and FAQ, please feel free to reach out to us at debquestions@nsf.gov.